By Nikki Hedrick
Jeff Black is no stranger to the area. He’s been a regular performer at the 30A Songwriters Festival, an Escape to Create artist in residence, and a long-time visitor. On May 19, Black returns to the Seaside Repertory Theatre to share his songs and the stories behind them.
“Nashville is a great town,” says Black of his home. “But we are kind of missing something. And that would be the beautiful Gulf Coast, that’s for sure.”
Like many songwriters, Black caught the bug at an early age. “I kind of started messing around with the guitar when I was about 10 maybe, just learning.
“I think it stems back from stories that my dad told me. My grandmother played piano in church, and my great-granddad played a little guitar, and my mom’s cousin played guitar. But nobody was really playing music. They were playing during the Depression, and I think they were trying to get something to eat. It wasn’t about nurturing some luxury of emotion.”
A sixth-grade talent contest solidified the notion of a music career. “I got up and played ‘Green, Green Grass of Home,’ and all the girls screamed and everybody thought that was something,” says Black. “And that was kind of it for me.”
From there, Black and his guitar became inseparable. “I latched onto it even tighter because I didn’t want to turn around at the end of my life and think, Man, I wish I did that. So I’m still trying it. I’m still working on it. I don’t know if I am ever going to get where I really want to go. But I have had so many dreams come true now that it doesn’t matter anymore.”
Black’s songs have been recorded by Alison Krauss, Waylon Jennings, Sam Bush and John Oates, among others.
A prolific songwriter, Black shares unreleased tracks through his Black Tuesday podcast, but he takes his time when it comes to formulating an album. “I’m always writing, all the time,” he says. “There were a lot of things going on that I had written about, that I kind of lost the common thread because I had to turn around and rewrite a lot of songs and write brand new songs.
“The storyline in this new album I was working on, it got a little crooked. You know, I probably write enough to put out a couple of records a year, but that doesn’t mean that they would be good.”
Black hopes to have the new album released by the end of the year.
Although Black takes his craft seriously, his shows are balanced with levity. “Coming from a place of my self-deprecating Irish deposition, I am of a mind that it’s a beautiful world, it’s a good place. That’s how I was raised. And then you have to deal with a lot of things that do reside in a little darker spots. I think I’m okay with going there. I know that I have certainly felt my way around in the darkness plenty of times in my life and have somehow or another come out of it.
“I think you have to know some of those things to write about them. I have never been one to stand on that soapbox and preach, because I am generally a pretty happy person down in my core.”
Black’s advice to songwriters is to find your inspiration, and it’s something he sees coming to life in his teenaged children. His daughter has followed in his footsteps and is working towards releasing her debut album. “She’s 14, and she’s a million miles further than I was at her age,” says Black. “And nothing gives me more joy than to see that.
“My son is an excellent athlete, and he’s doing things that I was never brave enough to try as a kid. He works at it very hard.”
Black manages a hectic touring schedule, about which he jokes, “It’s a damned good thing that I love my job, and I figure that I sort of get paid to drive more than anything else. That’s the only way I can make sense of it, because it is a very strange occupation.
“I am so lucky. I am a very fortunate man. I’m able to see the world and drag my guitar around with me and share some ideas with a lot of likeminded folks. You feel like you’re doing something good, and that’s a good thing these days.”
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